Ancient Voyagers, An Oral Storytelling Culture
Recently I read and shared my thoughts on Christina Thompson’s, Sea People, a non fiction collection of historical explorations of the Pacific and various attempts to recreate the voyages of the ancient navigators of Polynesia. It finishes with the exhilarating re-enactment of a 2,500 mile canoe voyage led by a descendant, using non-instrument navigation, proving what many Europeans had seen the result of but denied was possible in such challenging seas.
Some of the most challenging journeys were made by the Maori on their ocean going waka canoes, carrying them across Te-Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand, the most southern point of the Polynesian triangle. And it is from this culture that another descendant, Hinemoa Elder shares some of their ancient wisdom through a modern day interpretation, finding meaning and encouraging others to find theirs too.
Maori wisdom for a contented life lived in harmony with our planet
Aroha is the Maori word for love, but look a little deeper and we learn that it is a concept, described by Hinemoa Elder as a deeply felt emotion and way of thinking that encompasses love, compassion, sympathy and empathy.
A compound word, ‘Aroha’ includes the parts Aro, Ro, Hā, Oha. Words that contribute additional layers of meaning:
ARO is thought, life principle, paying attention, to focus on, to face or front
RO is inner, within, introspection
HA is life force, breath, energy
OHA is generosity, prosperity, abundance, wealth
This little book of Maori proverbs and wisdom is an attempt to reconnect to the wider meaning of an ancient word.
They are called whakatauki and are a way to connect to the words of Maori ancestors, an oral history passed down.
a portal, a doorway into the ancient, sacred energy of aroha, the timeless wisdom of Maori culture.
They provide insight and can be interpreted by the reader, offering an alternative perspective with which to look at the world and a reminder of our connection to nature and our duty to care for her abundant resources that are under threat.
There are 52 whakatauki, one for every week of the year and it’s a book that can either be read through or dipped in and out of randomly. The sayings are grouped into four themes, each one explained at the outset of that section and further inspired by toi whakairo, the Maori art of carving:
- Manaakitanga – te aroha ki te tangata
care, respect and kindness towards other and ourselves
- Kaitiakitanga – te aroha ki a Papatunuku
love for our world
- Whanaungatanga – te aroha ki nga hononga
empathy and connection between people
- Tino rangatiratanga – te aroha ki te tika
the pursuit of what is right, self-determination
Many of the proverbs refer to nature, the sea, the forest, observations of how it is, that we can think about and reflect on in our own lives.
Hinemoa Elder translates the saying literally, then offers an alternative in English that better reflects her own interpretation of it. She then writes a two or three page conversation-like reflection on what it brings to mind for her. Some of them like this one below, have the kernel of a myth inside them, combining story and nature to bring a lesson.
Ko te Mauri,
he mea huna
ki te moana.
The life force is hidden in the sea.
Powerful aspects of life are hidden in plain sight.
This refers to an ancestor who cast his traditional feathered cloak into the sea, a treasure, that is still there, out of sight, said to signify the ongoing presence of those that have gone before and to the hidden gifts that reside within us, that we have forgotten, that can be awakened with a little effort and reflection. You can reclaim them.
Remember your hidden powers, your true self, and bring it into the light.
There are many more to discover, it is a very easy read, full of nuggets of cultural wisdom and it is especially good for young people to read, clearly having been written and partly inspired by her encounters with youth.
Thank you, Claire. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sea People, and this sounds like a good follow-up. (I’m giving Sea People to my son-in-law, a keen sailor, as part of his birthday present.)
Oh I am so pleased you enjoyed Sea People, wasn’t it a wonderful read, and the perfect gift for a keen sailor. I hope you enjoy Aroha as much as I did as well, it’s the perfect follow up.
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Next on the list …
I like books that can work as a practice or for dipping-in-and-out. The most recent one in my stack was Richard Wagamese’s Embers (an Anishnaabe writer, of both fiction and non-fiction).
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I’m glad you have got a copy of Aroha. Rod and I have both read your review and forwarded it on the Karen where I first saw the book on her coffee table. I found your review very interesting, especially learning of how the word Aroha is made up, embracing all your f life. Although I’m trying to decrease our books, I must find a copy for us.